Spring 2021 - PHIL 854 G100

Selected Topics in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Philosophy (5)

Kant's First Critique

Class Number: 2226

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 4:30 PM – 8:20 PM
    AQ 2104, Burnaby



Selected Topics: Kant’s Metaphysics

 [Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 451W.]

Important note regarding enrollment: All seats are reserved for Philosophy Graduate students. Enrollments from other departments will be considered only upon submission of the Graduate Course Add Form, and with instructor's permission. All such enrollments will be done in or after the first week of classes.

It is customary to divide Immanuel Kant’s philosophical work into the “pre-critical” period and the “critical” period, and the division is marked by the appearance of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. Kant’s pre-critical works are characterized by a set of metaphysical views about traditional topics (e.g., modality, substance, causality, God) underwritten by a rationalism that guarantees the intelligibility of the cosmos. But in the critical period, Kant counts among his signature achievements a non-dogmatic epistemology that appears to severely limit the reach and content of metaphysics. Famously, Kant claims in 1781 that human cognition reaches only the “appearances” of things and leaves untouched “things in themselves.” Most interpreters have taken the Critique of Pure Reason and its “epistemological turn” to constitute a decisive break with Kant’s pre-critical rationalist metaphysics and have taken Kant to deny that any “transcendent metaphysics” is possible. However, a good deal of recent work has shown that the true story is not so simple. Many pre-critical doctrines survive in modified form in the Critique of Pure Reason, and there is significant evidence that Kant remained committed to significant systematic claims about the nature of things in themselves. Our general aim shall be to understand the entire scope of Kant’s metaphysics, from 1755 to 1787. In particular, we shall aim to understand the relation between these two periods in Kant’s thought, and to understand what role, if any, there is for metaphysics in Kant’s critical period.

We shall spend roughly the first third of the course tracing the development of Kant’s metaphysical views in the early part of his career. We will begin with Kant’s New Elucdation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Cognition (1755), in which he aims to undermine Leibniz’s basic cosmological views and defend an interactive cosmology. We shall then turn to The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God (1763), in which Kant aims to reject the traditional ontological argument and offer instead an argument for God’s existence based on an actualist account of modality and a distinction, novel in his own time, between logical and metaphysical modality. Finally, we shall read Kant’s Inaugural Dissertation (1770), a key transitional text that combines intellectual cognition of the intelligible world with the mind-dependence of space and time and the phenomenality of the empirical world. In the second half of the course, we shall be occupied primarily with selections from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781 and 1787), and we will focus on Kant’s account of space and time, his mature accounts of modality and cognition, and his accounts of causality, freedom, and God. We shall supplement our study of the Critique of Pure Reason with unpublished writings from Kant’s lectures and his fragments.


Successful completion of this course will satisfy the “History of Philosophy” distribution requirement toward the MA degree for Philosophy graduate students.


  • 6 response papers (300 – 600 words) 25%
  • A final term paper, with required draft and revisions (4500 words minimum) 75%


Course delivery: remote, synchronous (Zoom meetings). Online presence during scheduled time is not required but is strongly encouraged.

There will also be 3 in-person discussions/workshops at the Burnaby campus, so that graduate students present their research to each other. Face to face meetings also help facilitate the kind of cohort building that is crucial to the success of a small graduate program.  Students who cannot attend face to face can connect via Zoom to attend these workshops. There will also be additional remote workshops for students who cannot attend face to face to present their work. 

The in-person workshops will follow a prescribed safety plan (physical distancing, masks, disinfection of space; people with any Covid-19 symptoms will be asked to stay home and connect via Zoom).



Students must have access to internet and a computer/other device that permits streaming video, word processing and teleconferencing with Zoom.


  • Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. Guyer and Wood (eds.). Cambridge UP. ISBN: 978-0521657297
  • Kant, Theoretical Philosophy 1755 – 1770. Walford and Meerbote (eds.). Cambridge UP. ISBN: 978-0521531702
  • We will also read various scholarly articles and selections from some of Kant’s other works. These will be available on Canvas or through the SFU Library website.

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/current/important_dates/guidelines.html. The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).